U.S. Travel

Things I LoveU.S. TravelWining/Dining

BACK IN THE WINDY CITY

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I absolutely love visiting Chicago.  It is a world-class city with great people, shopping, culture, baseball (none for us this trip) and fabulous food.  I have visited many times, first due to working for a company headquartered in Chicago (from their L.A. office), then for a variety of reasons — an All-Star game at the ballpark formerly known as Comiskey; another baseball trip for Wrigley; a trade show; a conference, etc.  It doesn’t take much prodding for me to visit.

This year’s road trip stopped first in Cleveland and Detroit, so the proximity to Chicago was an easy decision as the place of choice to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary (previous posts and links in bold).  Below are two different views from our hotel — of Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan.

So what was on the itinerary for the 3-night stay?  Pretty much everything listed above, plus a first:  a boat tour on the Chicago River to view the city’s stunning, historic and iconic architecture. Chicago is known for having some of the most interesting buildings, and many of the great talents in the field have contributed and continue contributing to this day.  Among those greats are the names Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, and Skidmore, Owings, Merrill.  (Click here for more about the buildings.)  And the weather gods cooperated by providing a perfect day in Chicago; timing is everything as they say.  Neither cold nor hot nor humid nor windy.  If only there were more of these days. Some of the photos from the tour:

Above — 333 West Wacker Street; below – Willis Tower (110 stories)

Above – Marina City complex; below – Wrigley building

Eating and shopping were next up on the agenda, even if the latter was mostly of the window type.  As for the eating, a great deal of advance research was done in order to savor each meal (three lunches and two dinners).

RL Chicago was first up.  Ralph Lauren has a penchant for doing everything “just so,” and that includes his namesake restaurants (NY and Chicago).  While it may be considered a “scene” by some, we found the service very hospitable and welcoming and the food is delicious.  Finding Pigs in a Blanket on an “upscale” menu might be surprising, but they were perfection which is not surprising in hindsight.  The other dishes we tried followed suit.  And, yes, it was fun taking in the scene.

A tried-and-true spot is Shaw’s Crab House, part of the epic group of restaurants from Lettuce Entertain You. It is amazing that they can do so many different cuisines so well. But they do, and we’ve tried enough of their restaurants to know that is the case.

Searching for Chicago’s “best” pizza might result in a debate over thin crust (my preference) vs. a classic deep dish, and many other types in between.  I read about a place called Spacca Napoli and decided that was the winner for us.

For our anniversary dinner, a Chicago stalwart was selected — Le Colonial — recently relocated from Rush Street to fashionable Oak Street (think upper Madison Avenue and all those glorious boutiques).  I loved the food in Vietnam and thought this would be ideal.  And it was.  Just a word about the dessert — it is up there in the annals of dessert perfection.  A chewy and crispy base of oatmeal and coconut and chocolate with a perfect scoop of vanilla gelato on top.  I’d make a trip back just for that (hence the top billing below).

A last lunch was squeezed in en route to O’Hare and recommended by an LA friend who is often in Chicago.  Gibson’s Italia combines the best of their reputation for steak with surprisingly delicious Italian food.  Both were excellent and a terrific way to bid the city goodbye (but hopefully not for long).  And that view of the river from the restaurant is just beautiful!  Separately, did you ever see two happier people around food?  I think not.

If the fondest visual is saved for last, then this shot of Michigan Avenue taken from our room qualifies.  I could just stare and stare ..

 

 

 

Things I LoveU.S. Travel

MICHIGAN FOR A DAY

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Of the U.S. states not previously visited, I can now check Michigan off the list.  What are the others I presume you are asking?  In no particular order: Maine, Alabama and Mississippi. So nearly there.

After spending a couple of days in Cleveland (click here), the principal reasons for going were twofold:  attending a Detroit Tigers game and seeing Kalamazoo, my mom’s birthplace.

The Detroit suburb of Dearborn was the location for our overnight hotel.  The town is synonymous with one word — “Ford” — as it adorns nearly every building.  And if not “Ford” then “Henry.”  Seen below is merely one of countless buildings that comprise the world headquarters.

Random sighting in Dearborn!

We took the opportunity to view some other areas, especially the grand homes in Grosse Point Farms along Lake St. Clair, half of which body of water is in the U.S. and the other half Canada (bordering Windsor, Ontario).

Lakefront family viewing in Grosse Point

As for Comerica Park, it is another of the classic ballparks right in the city that one can access by foot.  I’m so used to Dodger Stadium’s car-only access (or shuttle bus) that it’s really a pleasure to visit a park situated as Comerica is or Progressive Field (Cleveland) or PNC (Pittsburgh) or many others.  And Comerica was the final piece for visiting all 30 current MLB stadiums.  Checkmate.

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After leaving the game, the hubby insisted we see one more sight before heading on.  It is a great one and well worth the short detour — the birthplace of Motown.

 

We set out on the 4+ hour drive which traverses the lower part of Michigan through Ann Arbor, Battle Creek and then Kalamazoo.  But the traffic Gods were not on our side with road closures, so we diverted south.  Sorry, mom.  I’ll have to come back another time to see the city of your birth.  We proceeded through the northern part of Indiana (South Bend) with a stop for dinner in Michigan City, Indiana, and then on to an all-time favorite city — Chicago.  Stay tuned.

Things I LoveU.S. Travel

HOMETOWN ROOTS

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If it’s summer, then there’s likely a road trip happening — mostly baseball related — as was the case for a recent trip.  The significance of this particular trip was a personal milestone — visiting the two remaining current MLB parks on my list.  The list is now complete together with a slew of older ones and foreign ones.

This is the “third time is the charm” for me when it comes to seeing a game in Cleveland.  I was at the original (Municipal) stadium eons ago, but is the first time at Progressive Field (formerly “the Jake”).  Not to mention seeing the Indians before they become the Guardians.  (I keep wanting to add “of the Galaxy” onto that name).   Since the hubby grew up in nearby Shaker Heights before his mom moved the family to Southern California, it is likewise an opportunity to meet up with some remaining family and friends as well.

Homes along Shaker Lakes

Our first lunch was with an elementary school friend of the hubby’s, Stuart Muszynski.  After a successful career in the insurance business followed by a health scare in the early 90’s, Stuart recognized that having a sense of gratitude played a significant role in his recovery.  This led to he and his wife Susan founding a remarkable organization called Values in Action where the focus is on teaching kids and adults kindness, anti-bullying, gratitude and love.  Please click on the link to see the remarkable work being done.  viafdn.org

Lunch with Stuart

Two other significant get-together’s happened, the first strictly by chance.  While showing me the various places he lived, the hubby invoked “nothing ventured; nothing gained” and knocked on the door of a duplex his family (parents and two brothers) lived in for three years — more than 60 years ago.  A very nice woman graciously invited us in to take a look — she lives there with her two sons.  Her mother has owned the duplex for 30 years and occupies the lower level.  She commented what great schools there are in Shaker Heights, then and now.  The duplex will pass to her when the time comes, hopefully many years from now.  Below, as Bruce knocks on the door.

With hospitable Kareemah

The second gathering was at Geraci’s, a Cleveland landmark established in 1956.  We had lunch with Bialosky cousins and one relative who has traced the Bialosky/Shapiro family back to the late 1700’s.  Amazing conversation and a deep dive into how small the world is.  Below from left: Bob (family historian) and Sandy Barnes; Jack and Ronnie Bialosky; and us.  Jack is a second generation Cleveland architect whose firm has worked on innumerable structures.

Speaking of homes there, this So Cal native is always stunned at the enormous difference in cost of homes elsewhere (SO MUCH LESS) compared to my state.  Like the magnificent property below.  Most condos in Los Angeles and certainly San Francisco cost more.  I’m reminded each trip to Cleveland that the weather — mostly the humidity — would be a deal breaker.  But that won’t keep me from always wondering, “what if …?”

Next stop:  My first trip to Michigan — specifically the Motor City.  And baseball, of course.

Perfect baseball weather at Progressive Field
Things You Should KnowU.S. Travel

SEPTEMBER 2001: A TRIP FOREVER REMEMBERED

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Washington, D.C., is a city I have had the pleasure of traveling to on innumerable occasions.  It was and to this day is one of my very favorite U.S. cities.  For a long time I thought it would a great place to live, as long as somehow the humidity was eliminated.

As a politically active couple, the hubby and I had a special reason to be in DC in September 2001.  A group of us went to the nation’s capital to meet with elected officials and have some unique access through the diligent work of our organizers.  We had a tour of the Pentagon on September 10th (see photo below) and listened to security advisers give a sobering talk about threats against the U.S.  A highpoint of the trip was to be a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol on the morning of September 11th, at 9am.  Later that day we were scheduled to visit the Supreme Court.

I took the photo below as we approached the Capitol building, Tuesday morning, 9/11/01.

I remember the events as if it were yesterday.  As we were progressing through the security line at the Capitol, people started reporting a plane had crashed into New York’s iconic World Trade Center — supposedly a small aircraft.  Once inside the building, the reports not only increased but became more alarming.  I became obsessed with the actions of Capitol personnel who seemed to be moving at an abnormally accelerated pace.  I remember saying, “Something’s not right.”

Moments later, the personnel literally screamed at us to run for the closest exit.  I never even looked to see where the hubby was; I just made a mad dash outside and immediately saw the smoke coming from the Pentagon.  Then I burst into tears.  Our kids were all the way across the country,  then just 10 and 12 years old.   Our group all gathered together and miraculously our bus and driver got to us through the chaos and took us as far out of DC as possible.  It was 3pm by the time we got access to our hotel and a television.

There was but one goal in mind and that was to get home.  Even if a flight were available, that was the last thing I would do.  We were fortunate to get a rental car and left Thursday morning with another couple for the drive across country.  An agreement was made:  the trip would be non-stop save for food and “pit” stops.

We reached Oklahoma City early Friday morning, September 14.  The day had been declared a National Day Of Prayer and Remembrance.  How fitting to arrive at the Oklahoma City Memorial, where victims of another act of terror are remembered – the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, murdering 168 innocents.   Two photos are below.

It was late Friday night when we knew none of us could drive without some sleep.  We got rooms to recharge and clean up in Kingman, Arizona.  The photo below is with our traveling companions Phil & Michael Anne Kurzner in Barstow.   

We arrived home midday on Saturday.  Neither of us had ever hugged our kids so hard nor been so grateful to see them.

Did the experience change my thinking about travel?  Only to the extent that none of us knows what can happen.  One thing I know for sure — the heroes of Flight 93 that took over the plane and crashed it in Shanksville, PA, averted another tragedy causing even more death.

And then a remarkable connection happened just this week after reading a column in the Wall Street Journal profiling the journey of Deborah Borza.  Deborah’s 20-year-old daughter Deora died on Flight 93.  The column is linked HERE.  I was so moved by the column that I wrote to the author, who immediately responded with her appreciation and that she had forwarded it on to Deborah.  She was hoping that was ok with me (it was more than ok — I wasn’t able to find how to contact Deborah directly).

After Deborah received the forwarded email, she called me and we spoke.  Deborah was an integral part of establishing the Flight 93 Memorial* in Shanksville, PA.  We visited there in 2018.  It is an emotional experience, but one that provides laser focus on what’s truly important in the scheme of things.   We plan to meet in person once Deborah returns to California after all the 9/11 remembrances.

We’ll never know whether the target of Flight 93 was the Capitol Building or the White House.  But 20 years later, I know the passengers’ bravery is something I will never forget.

*My blog from that visit is linked HERE.

Things You Should KnowU.S. TravelWining/Dining

FAMILY THANKSGIVING IN NAPA

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If you have either been to Napa and/or know those who have, the concensus is clear.  It appeals on so many different levels to so many people.

Nonetheless, every travel experience contains at least one head-scratcher.  Our flight from Burbank to Oakland was flawless, arriving early with a half-full plane. However,  the rental car pick up was anything but “flawless.”  Remember the famous Seinfeld episode where Jerry has a car reservation, but there’s no car available? Bingo. “Anyone can T A K E a reservation,” a frustrated Jerry says to the woman behind the counter.  “But you have to H O L D the reservation.” How exactly does a car rental company have no cars for their bookings?  Fortunately, steps away from Fox was Avis who solved the problem and off we went.

Silverado Country Club offers spacious units with three bedrooms and two baths so that was our choice.  Our family of four could spread out, bring in food for breakfast with the full kitchen and be very comfortable.  COVID meant none of the typical services, but the front desk responded promptly to all our requests.

Over the course of the week, our adventures would satisfy the most dedicated oenophiles.  Son Sam created and with the hubby operates a family enterprise, The Cellar Beverly Hills.  Now in our third year, we offer private wine storage with concierge services and much more.  Given the business has been built almost entirely by word of mouth, imagine our collective glee hearing from a prominent winery that TCBH is quite well known among Wine Country vinters. We were ecstatic.

The images below are from Wheeler, a custom crush facility where we had a tasting from Accendo Cellars.  The bottom photo is Wheeler’s open kitchen (to die for).

Make no mistake — this was a working trip.  Thanksgiving provided a much-needed respite, but the rest of the days were spent making and enhancing winery relationships (21 in all).  If you want to help this area from a devastating year — not just from COVID closures but the fires — buy wine!

We did our part.

Along with wine, the other joy of Napa is eating lots of great food.  Because there are so many choices, strategy was needed to try everywhere we wanted to go.  A couple of restaurants were nixed because of closing for the transition to complete outdoor dining (Avow and The Charter Oak).  A mix of new and old made up the rest:  Mustard’s Grill, Oenotri, Bistro Don Giovani, Celadon, Gott’s Roadside (a must), Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch and our favorite, Poesia in San Francisco.

Tasting at Hartford in Sonoma

You should know a word about outdoor dining this time of year. It’s cold. Very, very cold.  When the sun goes down, Napa drops at least 20 degrees. Every night was mid-40’s. One night required keeping my gloves on between the courses.  The establishments do their best with heaters but those unfortunately don’t reach one’s feet. Brrrr.

Mustard’s on Hwy 29
Celadon entrance

Poesia was a last-minute find for Thanksgiving dinner.  The food (shown below) was fantastic but even more fun was Pietro, the crazy, animated, fun and enthusiastic caretaker of our table.  This Italian/Jewish/filmmaker might just show up on our doorstep one day.  Prego!

Above (clockwise from upper left):  Eggplant parm, Cabbage salad with pears, walnuts & goat cheese; incredible rigatoni marinara; ravioli with pumpkin filling, sage and balsamic.

Below, the quartet of desserts:  Hazelnut gelato with hard chocolate shell; (take the gun but leave the) cannoli; millefoglie with apple; tiramisu.  All magnifico!

Pietro at Poesia

A few precious and careful visits with friends and family were icing on the proverbial cake to this spectacular week.  As a result, layers of ongoing and much welcomed (small) gatherings were added with cousin visits in Silverado, San Francisco and Lafayette.  We got in a quick coffee in Sebastopol with a high school friend, along with tastings at Jeff Cohn Cellars and Littorai in Sonoma.

Touring Mayacamas

Napa continues to be one of the best — if not the best — vacation destinations there is, so go!

U.S. TravelWining/Dining

DEEP IN THE HEART (AND SOUTH) OF TEXAS

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The recent trip to Texas for the glorious World Series was not just about attending the games.  There was more to do and enjoy in the Lonestar State, starting with some pretty great meals.  I know; that’s shocking.  First in Dallas followed by a couple days with our Houston friends.

Sightseeing:  Highland Park and Preston Hollow for spectacular homes; SMU Campus including the George W. Bush Presidential Library (currently closed)

Dallas digs:  AC Hotels by Marriott, a new brand (to me) — upscale, modern and very reasonable! Under $1oo per night for spacious king.

Dallas restaurants:   The Mercury and Yardbird (first grid); Terry Black’s for excellent BBQ in Deep Ellum — a very hip area located near Baylor U (second grid).

Terry Black’s food and outdoor smokers

Next, we hightailed it down to Houston to spend a couple days with our longtime friends there (Kay & Fred Zeidman). For the Houston dining, highlights were Kenny & Ziggy’s deli (“We Schlep Nationwide” via Goldbelly), Killen’s BBQ (fabulous!) plus Porta’Vino and somehow DQ always seems to pop up and we can’t resist.

Ziggy (in mask) makes terrific food!
Killen’s BBQ killed it!
Porta’Vino

We’re always sad to leave our Texas friends — especially after this particularly spectacular visit.  We even loved seeing Fred’s WS ring from the Nats organization — we “countered” in our Dodger gear.  Can’t wait to see y’all again!

 

Lapdog Willa felt just like home.